Update: libel cases and the ‘climate wars’

by Judith Curry

Big news in the world of ‘climate wars’ – the libel case of Andrew Weaver versus Tim Ball has been dismissed by the judge —  for a rather surprising reason.

Some context on all this is provided in a WUWT post by Tim Ball — Tim Ball’s Victory in the First Climate Lawsuit Judgement – The Backstory.   The text of the judgment is available online [here].  

A post at DeSmog blog — Climate Denier Tim Ball: Trump Approved, But Not Credible Enough to Stand Accountable For Libel — makes an interesting point that is the main focus of my comments:

Justice Skolrood found that “… despite Dr. Ball’s history as an academic and a scientist, the Article is rife with errors and inaccuracies, which suggests a lack of attention to detail on Dr. Ball’s part, if not an indifference to the truth.” The judge further accepted that Ball was committed to damaging Weaver’s reputation. Justice Skolrood wrote: “These allegations are directed at Dr. Weaver’s professional competence and are clearly derogatory of him. Indeed, it is quite apparent that this was Dr. Ball’s intent.”

From Justice Skolrood’s Reasons for Judgment: “The Article is poorly written and does not advance credible arguments in favour of Dr. Ball’s theory about the corruption of climate science. Simply put, a reasonably thoughtful and informed person who reads the Article is unlikely to place any stock in Dr. Ball’s views, including his views of Dr. Weaver as a supporter of conventional climate science.”

Having admitted that his client was guilty of defamation, Scherr demanded that Weaver should have to prove that the defamatory comments actually caused damage. In the judge’s words, Scherr was seeking “a threshold of seriousness,” and arguing, in effect, that his client’s work didn’t meet that threshold.

The notion arose from a case in another Canadian province (Vellacott v. Saskatoon Star Phoenix Group Inc. et al, Saskatchewan, 2012). In that case, the court found that certain published comments were not defamatory because they were so ludicrous and outrageous as to be unbelievable and therefore incapable of lowering the reputation of the plaintiff in the minds of right-thinking persons. Against that standard, Justice Skolrood wrote, “the impugned words here are not as hyperbolic as the words in Vellacott, (but) they similarly lack a sufficient air of credibility to make them believable and therefore potentially defamatory.”

Weaver’s lawyer, Roger McConchie, is already preparing the appeal. 

So did Tim Ball libel Andrew Weaver?  Yes.  Did Tim Ball’s libelous statements damage Andrew Weaver in any way?  No.  Was the judge’s argument of ‘lacking a sufficient air of credibility’ an appropriate rationale for his decision? Is making a libelous statement canceled out if your argument lacks credibility?

Well, application of this kind of reasoning takes you into some interesting directions in Mann’s libel lawsuits

Mann’s lawsuits

Weaver vs Ball is a sideshow to the main events of Michael Mann’s lawsuits against Tim Ball, Rand Simberg, National Review and Mark Steyn.  For background on these lawsuits, see these previous posts:

The suits involving Simberg, Steyn and National Review seem hopelessly mired in delays in DC courts.  The Mann vs Ball case will also be tried in the Canadian court system, and presumably will move forward (somewhat) more quickly.

If the same reasoning in the Weaver versus Ball case prevails, then I would expect  a similar outcome in Mann versus Ball.

How would this reasoning play out in the Mann versus Steyn et al. lawsuits?  Steyn and Simberg (who are not scientists) made comments about Mann that were intended to be humorous and clever in the context of political satire, rather than seriously argued professional assessments of Mann’s research.

Under this ruling, it seems that carefully argued statements against an individual or an argument are required for damage? Even mores if the statements are made by an expert?

I have made this point before:  Mann’s libelous statements about me (because he is a scientist with many awards) are far more serious than say Rand Simberg’s statements about Mann.

Mark Jacobsen’s lawsuit against scientists and PNAS who published a rebuttal of his paper definitely meets the requirement of damage to his reputation, but it isn’t libel if the statements are correct or at least justified by evidence and arguments.

It seems that the following reasoning should apply to these lawsuits:

  1. assess whether there was any reputational or financial damage incurred by the litigant
  2. assess whether the statement in question is well argued and/or ‘true’
  3. assess whether the defendant in the litigation has sufficient reputation or standing to influence public opinion on the topic of the litigation.

The instinct of the defendants in these cases has been to address #2.  It is arguably more important and effective defense to address #1 and #3.

Mann’s AAAS Award

It is becoming very hard for Mann to claim damages from such ‘insults’ and alleged libel, given the awards, big lecture fees and book fees.

The latest award bestowed upon Mann:   the AAAS has decided in 2018 to give him its prestigious award for Public Engagement with Science. Excerpts:

In the past year, Mann has had 500 media interviews and appearances and directly reached public audiences via social media. His op-eds and commentaries have been published in dozens of outlets, including The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, CNN and The New York Times. He has also advised actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who spoke about climate change during a 2014 speech delivered to the United Nations.

In 2017, Mann was recognized with the Schneider Award from ClimateOne and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers’ James H. Shea Award. He was also inducted into the Green Industry Hall of Fame. He was elected a AAAS fellow in 2015.

Roger Pielke Jr is not pleased — AAAS Sends a Message. Excerpts:

I find this remarkable. Who is Dr. Mann?

  • He Tweets all day about Donald Trump, typically calling him names and mocking him. Mann writes dozens and dozens of Tweets about Trump every day.
  • He has suggested, on more than one occasion, that the death penalty is appropriate for a Republican member of Congress.
  • He has worked hard to have people he disagrees with fired from their jobs and suffer career repercussions, including by directly contacting employers and leading public campaigns. He has had some success.
  • He has sued people he disagrees with, including a journalist and a fellow academic. His lawsuits have been criticized by leading newspapers, including the Washington Post: “Mann essentially claims that he can silence critics because he is ‘right’ … [his lawsuit will] chill the expression of opinion on a wide range of important scientific and public policy issues.
  • He routinely excoriates individuals for being members of the Republican party and has expressed a desire for Congress to consist only of Democrats. He helps to run a Political Action Committee that has targeted several Republicans in Congress.
  • He routinely engages in name-calling, outright misrepresentation of others’ views and leads social media bullying against fellow academics.

Mann is fully entitled to his views and the use of whatever techniques he thinks appropriate to advance his extreme politics. He is certainly not alone in playing political hardball in 2018.

My issue here is not with Mann. It is with the decision by AAAS to single out Mann as someone who embodies our highest values of the scientific community: a role model to emulate who engages in behaviors to celebrate.

With this award, what message is AAAS sending to the scientific community and to the public?

The AAAS is telling us that engaging in hyper-partisan, gutter politics, targeted against Republicans and colleagues you disagree with, using unethical tactics, will be rewarded by leaders in the scientific community.

AAAS could work to help to defuse the pathological politicization of science. Instead, it has thrown some gasoline on the fire.

JC reflections

What to say about this, other than the climate science world is upside down?   On one level, all this is highly amusing.  On another level, I absolutely despair for the integrity of academic climate science.

Right now, I am feeling very well to be outside of academia and academic culture where all this would actually ‘matter.’  Instead, I’m busy working with companies and organizations to help them address their actual risks from weather and climate variations.

via Climate Etc.


February 14, 2018 at 10:47PM

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